If we're honest, the first question that popped into our heads after hearing that Batman: Arkham Origins will have online multiplayer was: why? Why add a multiplayer mode to a franchise that seems to be getting along just fine without one? Why risk joining that long list of studios that bolt on multiplayer modes just for the sake of it? Why divert studio time, energy and money that could be used to craft a better, longer, more elaborate single player?
The final question is easily answered: the main Arkham Origins team at Warner Bros Montreal hasn't been tasked with developing the multiplayer too. That privilege falls to Splash Damage, the London-based studio responsible for 2011's Brink, which is creating Arkham Origins Online as a completely separate entity that's shipped in the same box as the campaign.
Speaking to us at a recent presser, Splash Damage's creative director Alastair Cornish was keen to allay any reservations. "We were all very passionate about the fact that this shouldn't be a "me too" mode or a tacked-on mode," he told us. "It had to be distinct, it had to be uniquely Arkham, and it had to feel like a natural growth of the single player experience.
"I almost think of it as like the challenge rooms: if you liked some aspect, you can come on and extend your experience, and multiplayer - particularly one based on the invisible predator experience - feels like that natural extension. It feels like, "Ok, I want to challenge myself against the best AI in the world - other players - who are unpredictable as all hell and can work together and use their ingenuity."
Confirming rumours that surfaced a few months ago, Origins' multiplayer mode is an evolved form of the previous games' offline predator challenges. Two players star as Batman and Robin, engaged in a three-way war with two teams of elite criminals - three from Bane's gang, and three from Joker's. As in every third-person shooter, the criminal players can use and vault over cover, perform evasive rolls and are equipped with no-nonsense ballistic weaponry. Any kills they score drive down the other gang's "reinforcements", and when one gang's reinforcement count reaches zero, all their opponents have to do is mop up any survivors.
Batman and Robin, meanwhile, are stalking the shadows high above, picking off stragglers or those unlucky or bull-headed enough to wander off. Each takedown they earn will fill a shared "intimidation" gauge, and once that fills completely, the heroes win. From time to time, Alfred will also radio in and point out high-value team captains, which grant additional intimidation points if taken down. Varying your takedowns and tactics will also fill the gauge faster.
Any deaths the heroes experience, however, will lower their intimidation score, and if the last surviving gang member of either team manages to kill a hero, their entire team will be granted a last-chance comeback, and the heroes' intimidation gauge will take a heavy knock.
Perhaps the most surprising element of this set-up is the inclusion of the Boy Wonder, given that Origins' creative director Eric Holmes insisted at SDCC that Robin wouldn't make an appearance in the single player campaign. What time frame does that put Origins into? "It's best to think of it as being in the same broad fictional window, if that makes sense," Cornish told us. "So it's not following on or tied to the single player story, and one of the most noticeable things there is the inclusion of Robin.